This wearable exoskeleton for industrial workers could transform output and efficiency

Industrial automation supplier Comau has unveiled MATE, its first innovative wearable exoskeleton. MATE has been designed to improve work quality in an efficient and highly ergonomic manner by providing consistent and advanced movement assistance during repetitive as well as daily tasks.

The MATE Fit for Workers exoskeleton uses an advanced spring-based passive structure and is claimed to deliver lightweight, breathable and highly effective postural support without the need for batteries, motors or other failure-prone devices. In other words, the mechanism poses no risk of battery or motor failure simply because the system does not use them.

It is also compact and ergonomically designed thanks to the partnership between Comau, ÖSSUR, a leading non-invasive orthopedics company, and IUVO, a spin-off from The BioRobotics Institute (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna) that specialises in wearable technologies. MATE is fully able to replicate any movement of the shoulder while adhering to the body like a “second skin”.

MATE was designed in close collaboration with factory workers engaged in manual activities, which has aided greatly in the development of a naturally comfortable, breathable postural structure. The compact structure also fully follows the movements of the upper limb without resistance or misalignment

Ultimately, the real benefit of these developments is that workers will enjoy a reduction of shoulder muscle activity for some muscles of up to 50%, meaning that they will be able to perform the same tasks with less fatigue. Consistent, ergonomically-assisted movement support also serves to increase the quality and precision of repetitive tasks, meaning users can improve their quality of work while reducing the risk of injury.

Tobias Daniel, vice president robotics and automation products global sales & marketing, commented: “For Comau, this is an extraordinary opportunity to reach a global market that, according to the IFR, grew more than 60% from 2015 to 2017 and is estimated to continue growing at a rate of 25% each year until 2020. We believe that the industrial sector will represent about one third of the exoskeleton’s applications.”

Reflecting Comau’s vision and commitment to innovative, open and easy-to-use technologies, MATE is an important part in the company’s HUMANufacturing Technology strategy, a concept in which people are protagonists within the smart factory together with cutting-edge, digital tools, enabling technologies and ‘intelligent’ industrial robotics within a networked production system.

MATE is the first of a series of wearable robotics that Comau is developing and commercialising in partnership with IUVO and Össur. A fundamental aspect of the collaboration is the joint desire to progress and evolve human-machine collaboration within diverse sectors, including biomedical, manufacturing and consumer. MATE was designed and developed at the Comau HUMANufacturing Innovation Center in Pontedera (Pisa), Italy.